‘You’re Doing an Amazing Job, Mama:’ Tips for Transitioning to Maternity Leave and Returning to Work

Sponsored by Netskope

Rebecca Duncan

Photo courtesy of Netskope.

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“I have always felt supported by my company as a working mom,” Rebecca Duncan, director of field marketing at Netskope, tells Fairygodboss. “Having the flexibility and ability to work from home is key to maintaining my sanity. There are unforeseen circumstances e.g., (pandemics, illness and daycare closures) that have caused my son to be at home during working hours. I am able to focus on him during the day if he needs it and catch up in the evening after he’s in bed.”

From taking maternity leave to creating a work-life balance with boundaries, Duncan says that Netskope, a market-leading cloud security company, has made her life easier. Thanks to Netskope’s constant support for her role as a director and as a mother, Duncan has been able to focus on her innovative work.

We caught up with Duncan to learn more about how she prepared for maternity leave, readjusting to work after it and how she finds balance and breathes. Here’s what she had to say.

How did you prepare for maternity leave and what advice can you offer to other moms who are expecting their first child?

For my son, I started preparing at home about two to three months before my maternity leave. Now, six weeks away from having my second child, I have yet to start preparing the nursery. The current plan is to get the crib and nursery set up in the next couple weeks. There’s been a huge difference being hyper focused on child number one and being too busy to prepare for child number two. We’ll get there soon!

As far as work leave preparation, a couple months before maternity leave, I start putting together notes on all the programs and activities that I am currently involved in. I set backups for each functional area that may need attention while I am gone. My goal is to ensure all my notes are up to date, links are easily accessible and there’s a one-stop-shop for answering questions while I’m out. 

How long were you on maternity leave and what was it like to return to work? 

I was on maternity leave for 12 weeks. It sounds like a long time, but it truly goes by so quickly. 

I’ll be honest, the first day going back to work was rough for me. I sobbed like a baby at daycare drop-off and on the way home. As each day and week went by, the process became easier. We were very lucky to have a daycare for my son that we love and trust. Aside from not being with my son all day, the hardest part was keeping up with a pumping schedule. I have the luxury of working from home, but the hours would fly by, and I would find myself getting off schedule. 

What really rocked my world was when the COVID-19 pandemic “stay at home order” started. My son had been in daycare for about one month and a half, and we seemed to have our routine down. Now, like so many other parents, my husband and I had to figure out how to balance both working full-time jobs with a four-month-old child at home.

Photo courtesy of Netskope.

To say this was challenging would be an understatement. There were many arguments and a significant amount of tears shed with the stress of passing the baby throughout the day. While both of our companies were extremely understanding of what we were going through, we had self-induced stress of trying to maintain the workday we normally would without our son at home. 

After about a month and a half of the juggling routine, we hit our stress limit and went on a roadtrip to “quarantine together” with the retired grandparents. Having help immediately changed everything, and we felt that we could breathe again. 

The “COVID-19 silver lining” was I had an extra-long maternity leave and was able to spend so much more time with my son than I normally would have had. The hard part was having to work during that “bonus” maternity leave. 

This next time around, my plan is to ease back into work a little differently. When I return to work, we will have childcare in our home for the first two weeks. After that point, our daughter will transition to the daycare my son is at. The first day back with my son was so tough because it all happened at once. 

How has your morning routine changed since becoming a mom?

The biggest change is that I haven’t set an alarm in two-and-a-half years! I never have to worry about waking up late since my son is sure to get us up — some days earlier than we’d like. 

How has your role as a new mom made you a better employee? 

I have a greater amount of empathy for other working parents going through tough times with their children.

What’s your go-to stress-relief activity or routine? 

I’ll admit it: It’s turning on trashy Bravo TV shows. I can shut my brain off and laugh at the ridiculous fights of the Real Housewives. #GuiltyPleasure  

What kinds of boundaries do you follow to separate work and family time?

This can be a tough one. Having the flexibility of working remotely is great, but there is the feeling that I always need to be checking email/Slack on my phone no matter what time of day. I really try to make an effort to stay off my phone once I pick up my son from daycare. Some days are better than others, but I want to give him my full attention when he’s home. 

Photo courtesy of Netskope.

What’s your #1 tip for new moms who are navigating the delicate balance of working and mothering?  

Give yourself grace. No mother is perfect nor should we aspire to be. You’re going to make mistakes, you’ll second guess your decisions and there will be times when you feel like you’re failing. Take a breath, hug your baby and start again.

We’re all doing the best we can, and the key is to find your own balance. What works for someone else may not work for your family. Trust your instincts, and take a break when you need it. You’re doing an amazing job, mama!

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